Bill Wiggenhorn is an internationally sought-after expert in training and development, executive and leadership development, e-learning, marketing, and business strategy. He was recently awarded the ASTD 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the training and development industry.
As chief learning officer at Motorola in the 1980s, Wiggenhorn established the benchmark corporate university. He expanded Motorola University (MU) to encompass 101 education centers in 25 countries, building partnerships with universities, governments, and companies across geographic and political divides.
Wiggenhorn also has served as a senior learning and development executive at Xerox and chief learning officer at Cigna. He has consulted to clients representing industry, government, and not-for-profit organizations in 60 countries.
Currently, Wiggenhorn is a principal at Main Captiva, a consulting firm that provides project management services. His focus is on executive development and talent management, custom-building solutions for his clients.
Wiggenhorn holds bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Dayton.
What were your thoughts as you embarked on the project that would become Motorola University?
The first thing we had to do was to make sure that we could deliver targeted training anywhere in the world to Motorola employees. In a short time period, we established 25 locations around the world. In the 1980s, we didn't have the technology that we have today, so we had to have a physical presence to reach out.
I quickly globalized my staff to ensure that I had people from different geographic and cultural backgrounds. I hired instructional designers called "people engineers" because they knew how to design education for adults. We also hired senior functional experts in manufacturing, engineering, sales, team development, and leadership to join the university. They helped us and our instructional designers to produce content that could then roll out to the rest of the world.
Bob Galvin, the CEO at the time, firmly believed that when you went to a new country you were to take two suitcases: one filled with the knowledge you were bringing to share with the local population—in this case, education and training; and an empty suitcase to fill with what you would learn from the country visited. From the very beginning, Motorola University's presence in a new location was set up as a two-way street—what we had and wanted to share, and what we needed to learn from others.
At the time, the term "university" was understood and respected in both the Communist world and the capitalist world. MU was accepted as an academic institution even though we were really an educational service company. But we used the university as a way to bring regulators and government officials together to explore with us how we could do business. This approach was very successful in Russia, China, Malaysia, and central and eastern Europe.
How have you seen coaching evolve over the years?
In the 1990s, coaching was often selected as a remedial measure for underperformers. In 2013, people are selected to be coached because they are highly valued by their companies. Especially in challenging economic times, companies invest in coaching winners, not poor performers. These days, people fight to get coached because they realize that coaching is an acknowledgment of their importance to their organizations.
One thing I've found during the course of my career is that most people don't get straight feedback. By having an external coach gather 360-degree feedback through interviews with a coachee's managers, direct reports, and peers, a picture of the coachee emerges that is often surprising to him or her.
Our firm takes what we call the "inside-out" approach to assessing each person we coach. Our coaching protocol begins when a prospective coach and coachee meet and ensure that there is a comfort level on both sides. We then work with the coachee's manager to determine goals for the relationship.
Our coaches begin with an in-depth interview of the coachee to determine his or her perception of self. We then either review a recent assessment or conduct a new one to establish a neutral baseline of personality preferences. Finally, we conduct 360-degree feedback interviews to provide the coachee with candid information about how his stakeholders "see" him—and what those colleagues would like to see him do more or less of. The ensuing report, combining self-perception, assessment, and feedback from others, provides a powerful roadmap for the coaching journey.
We coach smart people who are considered stars in their companies. We've found that once our coachees understand and "own" the feedback they receive, they are usually willing to fine-tune their styles. Without feedback, which is like a mirror providing an unfiltered view of what others see and feel, our coachees would never know the opportunities they have for optimizing their careers.
Most people end up with a development plan that is tied to their career, and many are now expanding this to become more of a life plan. This involves coachees considering what they really want to do inside their professions, with their families, and other "bucket list" experiences they may want to want to pursue.
What might a high-performing employee be coached on?
By the end of the coaching protocol, the coachees have validated their ability to continue to contribute significantly and more powerfully within their companies. Much of what we work on with coachees stems from cultural perspectives or personality traits. For example, we coached a super-smart young attorney who wasn't considered assertive enough. Once this young professional understood what assertive "looked and sounded like," she began to enjoy a more robust career path.
We also worked with a terrific finance executive who was quiet in meetings, always taking lots of notes. The feedback was that this person wasn't a "doer." Upon hearing that feedback, our coachee began to focus on contributing strategically in every meeting. Colleagues recognized this individual's power. Three years later, this coachee is one of the top 10 executives of a $60 billion company.
We tend to work with a lot of people in finance, information services, computer science, and legal who are great contributors, but not extroverts. It's the coach's job to help them understand the importance of managing their brands and letting their voices be heard.
What is your opinion of social media as a tool for learning and professional development?
I think social media utilized inside companies, with platforms such as Yammer and other intranet portals, can be very powerful tools to reinforce learning communities, transfer knowledge, and help employees stay on top of what's going on in future markets. External social networking tools can be a great way to see how your customers and your employees perceive you. Our firm tracks that closely to learn about employee satisfaction.
But there's a dilemma. Communities can be set up outside of an organization's firewall, so that they continue to build and expand, but the downside is they're not behind a firewall. People have to think twice before they put things out there.
How do you think international leaders will affect the learning industry?
Diversity of thought is the very essence of learning. That's why Bob Galvin's suitcase philosophy is so powerful. Just as an excellent coach listens twice as much as he or she speaks, the learning industry must stress the importance of keeping an open mind and reading about all cultures, all approaches, and respecting the differences among us.
Some of the global leaders who I believe are having the greatest impact on the learning industry are Pedro Suarez, president of Dow Latin America; Osvaldo Kalaf, commercial excellence and education manager with Dow Latin America's customer academies; Dennis Jönsson, CEO of Tetra Pak; Ralph Hägg, vice president of global learning and organizational development for Tetra Pak's executive and leadership acceleration programs; Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever; and Jonathan Donner, vice president of learning and capability development for Unilever's United Kingdom and Singapore global leadership development centers.
What is your philosophy of working and learning that drives your career success?
I'm a constant learner. I am stimulated by the new people, new ideas, and new leaders whom I have met and continue to meet over the course of my fairly long career.
I've also repeatedly witnessed knowledge and self-awareness in people at all levels of the workforce. I have met people who were working on the line in a factory, and 20 years later have their doctoral degrees and are teaching either in a corporation or in a university. I find that exciting and powerful.
One of my favorite quotes is from philosopher Albert Camus, who said: "Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend."
That's how I look at the learning community—as my friend. It is a lab where everyone has the opportunity to teach and learn while proceeding through the different stages of their careers and their lives. There is no greater privilege one can have than sharing knowledge to develop others.